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Posted by xaviervir on April 1, 2010

What is eminent domain?
Eminent domain is the power of the state (or city or county) to seize a person’s private property…..with due monetary compensation, but without the owner’s consent.  Eminent domain is a tool of the Redevelopment Agency, also called the RDA.
google: wikipedia: eminent domain

Is your property protected from eminent domain?
Approximately 95% of  the city of San Pablo is in two project areas called ‘Tenth Township and Legacy Redevelopment Project Areas’.  If you own property within the city limits, it is more than likely it is in one of the project areas.  The current law?  See info on Proposition 99 below.

What is a project area?
A project area is an area that is, according to the city, ‘blighted’ and therefore needs ‘improvement’.  Once any one property has been ‘improved’, all properties in the project area are deemed ‘improved’ and taxes on all properties can be raised. The increased portion of tax  (called tax increment or TIF) over the base tax , is used   to pay outstanding debt, i.e. the RDA bonds.  That  debt borrows against future property tax revenues and can last up to fifty years.  Without RDA and the eminent domain capture of property there is a normal inflationary increase in property values and the tax revenue would go to public coffers to pay for city services.  With RDA  the funds go for payment of bond debt.

See: Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (FY ending June 30, 2008), San Pablo website: The “Agency has pledged all future tax increment revenues…….for the repayment of the Tax Allocation Bonds.” (pg. 63)

What is the history of eminent domain?
After WW ll the United States had an abundance of productive power and labor force due to returning servicemen.  The government decided these two assets would be utilized to rebuild America.The public enthusiastically responded thinking their cities, their little towns,their neighborhoods would be spiffed up and, after years of wartime austerity, prosperity would arrive.

First came the suburbs, then came the Community Redevelopment Act in 1962 to attack ‘blight’ in the cities.  Then came the the urban developers and the profit motive.  Why buff and shine when you can bulldoze?  People are, after all, sort of movable furniture.  Just shuffle them out to the newly created suburbs and there would be a lot of space to  build, build,build and make a lot of money doing it.  A quick OK from  sleepy, ill-informed city councils and across the country work began.
In San Francisco, for example, whole neighborhoods were wiped out and the people were scattered to the wind.  Where once classic old Victorians, neighborhood churches, schools, strong little ethnic communities stood, soon came freeways and high-rises.   Prosperity, indeed, had arrived.  But not for the people.  The people be damned.  And all this was accomplished through the power of eminent domain.

(see: google: ‘Sad Chapter in Western Addition History Ending’, (7/21/2008),  “883 businesses were shuttered and 4,729 households forced out….2,500 Victorian homes demolished.”  Now there are high-rise apartments and a reputation of high crime and violence.

More recently, the US Supreme Court decided to abandon the traditional criteria for eminent domain requiring it be used for “public use” purposes, i.e. roads, schools, etc., and instead decided if city councils wanted to use it for economic development that would now be allowed.                                                                                                                          (google: Kelo v. New London)
This means a local government can force you to sell your property and turn it over to private developers to make big profits.  The Institute for Justice defended Kelo  (a registered nurse)  and attorney Dana Berlinliner from that organization has said:

“Eminent domain is not a tool for private developers to assemble prime real estate, or for cities to increase their coffers. If developers want property they can buy it just like anybody else.”

The American people rose up in arms over the Kelo decision.  More mail was received by the US Supreme Court than anytime in history.  In response to the people,  states passed legislation to limit the decision.  In California Proposition 99 was passed and made part of the California Constitution.  Unfortunately, Proposition 99 was sponsored by the League of California Cities, one of the major beneficiaries of eminent domain abuse.  It was written full of loopholes. The people voted for it thinking they were protecting themselves,  but they were scammed.

see:California Constitution, Article 1, Section 19
(a) Private property may be taken or damaged…..
see:California Legislative Analyst’s Office:
Proposition 99 (and subsequent Constitutional Amendment)  “will not likely significantly alter government land acquisition practices.”  Read: There are too many loopholes in the wording.  No one is protected until a case is presented to the courts and a judge or judges decide how that wording is to be interpreted.
see: googler: “Phony California Eminent Domain Measure Hard Pill To Swallow”
see:google:The Truth About Prop 99: “..circumvent protection by merely rezoning residential to business or retail…”

In San Pablo the now infamous Circle S property  (18 acres of prime land) was cleared using eminent domain of ‘undesirables’, i.e. the poor, the disabled, the elderly, and what fate became those people is anyone’s guess. Likely they were not used to a bulk ‘cash settlement’, squandered it, and are now in some government subsidized housing increasing the cost to tax payers. Tragically, some may have joined the homeless population.  In California we have  404,914  homeless men, women and children.  (This is 2006 figure and most certainly that figure has increased dramatically since the recession began.)  In San Pablo we have  five places the homeless congregate or camp according to our police department.  The cost to us, the tax payer, is a  half million dollars per year to clean up after them and graffiti.   Eminent domain causes homelessness as explained by Jeff Dietrich in “The Catholic Worker.”

google:San Pablo Talk Back and read “Redevelopment:The Unknown Government”.  This  book has a wealth of information on  the multiple destructive factors of RDA and how it diverts tax dollars from schools and needed city services and committed $81 Billion of California tax money to service RDA debt.  It was written by Chris Norby, Council Member, City of Fullerton.
Note: This book will be on the San Pablo Talk Back site soon.  Stay tuned.

When Mr. Gangapuram, our Planning Manager, was asked at a General Plan Advisory Committee meeting what the plan was for the Circle S property he first said it wasn’t decided, then later said it would be for ‘mixed use’.    And what is ‘mixed use’? We San Pablo people may find out eventually, when it has all been planned and approved and maybe even built.  The survey of the people done by the Planning Department shows San Pablo people think the city is the right size as it is but ,again, the people be damned.  Mr. Gangapuram lives in Redwood City and he knows what’s best for us.  Just don’t tell the people too much or in time to do anything about it and his Plan A or Plan B will magically materialize with 5 or 6 story high buildings…and more traffic,more crime, more bad air, more congestion, higher taxes  necessary to support the increased population and buildings with schools, police, and fire protection and, of course, a bigger government to manage it all.

And what does the law say about informing the people?
Ca Government Code 54950 (The Brown Act) “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.  The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know.  The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

This law does not say the people must scurry about trying to understand the complexities of the law.  It says they have a right to be informed.  Check out the City web site.  Is your government informing you?  Many pages haven’t been updated in years, and the site is not multi-lingual or interactive so the people can communicate openly with their agencies or representatives.  This writer asked the City Manager numerous times to make our City web site appropriate to the population, noting in the budget we are paying for four IT people that could do it.  But, no. Not going to happen. Now, why wouldn’t a city manager want a city web site that informs the people?  And why hasn’t the city council told him to tell the IT people to create one?  It’s a real mystery.

And what does the law say about taking property through eminent domain without a specifically designated ‘public use’?”California Appeals Court Reminds Cities Must Decide “public use’ Before Condemnation.”                                                                                                                                                                        The ‘public use’ was not decided before eminent domain was used to toss out the people in the Circle S property. That’s clearly against the law as stated in the Appeals Court decision.  If you, say, break the law making a right hand turn against a red arrow in San Pablo, you will be slapped with a fine of over $400 dollars.  But people we pay over  $100,000 per year to better our community can, it appears, ignore the law with impunity.

What could have been done? A deal could have been negotiated when building the Abella complex to build some  modest accommodations for the Circle S people.  That way they could  have kept together their community.   Why wasn’t that done? Why bother?  They were poor and defenseless. Give them some cash and get rid of them.  How much did it cost us, the people of San Pablo?  We haven’t been told, but there are many ‘settlements” listed in the city budget. Was there ever a financial estimate on the cost of settling with the Circle S occupants verses the cost of incorporating accommodations into the Abella project?  Why bother?  The city employees who are deciding these things don’t live here and don’t pay taxes here.  It’s not their money they’re spending.
But setting aside the moral and ethical considerations of how we are to treat our  fellow human beings, the decisions regarding the Circle S property appears to make no economic sense.  The people who were housed in those 252 mobile homes were mostly elderly and disabled.  Their incomes from Social Security and Disability were modest, but stable. They weren’t going to lose their jobs and stop paying rent or a mortgage.  They would have made good tenants.  Yet the option of incorporating them into the Abella project appears not to have been considered.
Finally, regarding the Circle S land, Mr. Gangapuram, our Planning Manager, has decided (no doubt under the direction of his employer, the City Manager) that the property should be mixed use, i.e. residential units and commercial buildings.  That means an increase in population and more stress on schools, police, fire and other city services and an increase in taxes to support them.  He seems utterly oblivious to the fact that hundreds of commercial banks have gone under and more will soon be going under because businesses can’t pay their mortgages because people don’t have the money to support the businesses and will not because this recession is predicted to last many years into the future until the trillions of federal debt has been cleaned up, if it ever is.  You will note the State is mandating a lot of low income housing.  They know what’s coming.  What can we, the people of San Pablo do to protect ourselves?  Stop the building and invest in the people.

If there is any more building to be done, it should be an investment in the people.  One alternative for the Circle S property is a school for our young people that are now at Richmond High.  Why? Given the last rape and other incidents, that school has some serious problems that likely can not be cured.  Those are our young people and we need to give them an environment where things can be kept under control,  a decent education is available and school scores can be raised. The first thing a home buyer looks at is  school scores.  When they are up, the value of your property goes up and the buyer is willing to pay more.  When they are down, they look elsewhere.
Mr. Gangapuram said at a General Plan Advisory Committee meeting  a school needs 40 acres, so the Circle S 18 acres is off the table.  Really?  There are about the same number of students at the Salesian school as San Pablo students at Richmond High and they have only 20 acres.  Moreover, since the two properties are contingent, there is the possibility some facilities could be shared.   Has this possibility been thoroughly investigated?  I doubt it.  Mr. Gangapuram doesn’t live here.  His kids don’t go to school here.  He is a planner and planners plan for builders and they want to build, build, build and cram in more population and commercials.

And what does the law say about eminent domain,redevelopment and a city’s General Plan?
see: Health & Safety 33331: “Every redevelopment plan shall be consistent with the community’s General Plan.”
Go to the San Pablo website and read the past General Plan, the one we are supposed to have been following  The people have consistently wanted jobs, parks, better schools, less crime and to raise their living standard.  Nowhere does it say “give us crowded schools from an increase in population, 5 or 6 story buildings completely incongruous with the small town character of our city,  higher taxes and use eminent domain to bulldoze me and my neighbors and our small businesses  and churches”. for all California laws and Constitution

And will redevelopment, using eminent domain, bring more jobs and more tax revenue?
google:”Subsidizing Redevelopment in California”, Public Policy Institute of California.  This independent organization studied RDA projects across the State and found that rather than help a city’s economy, RDA activity created massive debt to cities, NO NET ECONOMIC GROWTH AND WAS A NET DRAIN ON PUBLIC RESOURCES.  Moreover, the study shows, the hardest hit were minority communities.

Note: When I saw this I emailed the city council thinking they would certainly want to check out this report to see how minority communities (ours) are being “hit”.  On August 19,2009 I received the following response from Mayor McNeil (excerpted):

“In your assault on redevelopment you seem to insinuate that Blacks and Latinos have ruined cities.  I think you are on shaky ground with this claim and I totally resent this claim.”

WHAT?  I send information to the city council thinking they will want to check it out to protect the people and  Mayor McNeil turns it into some kind of race thing?  The report doesn’t say “Blacks and Latinos have ruined cities,”  nor did I.  It shows, by a statistical study, the people are being taken advantage of in cities where Blacks and Latinos make up the city councils. Why did the mayor choose to twist the words and my obvious concern for the people? That’s not building community.  That’s  creating division.
Also: “As of 6/30/2010 our bond debt will be $85,695,472..” per email from Bradley Ward, City Finance Director.  All payments on bond debt must be paid before anything is paid for city services.  If income goes down due to continued decline of the economy or competition from a new casino, city services including recreation, senior services, police, fire, etc. would have to be cut  to pay the bond debt.  Moreover, some of these bonds are on variable rates and payments may be higher in the future.

So the people be damned, the law be damned, and democracy itself be damned.  We,the people of San Pablo, apparently have no right to decide anything about how our money is to be spent.  Our City Manager, Brock Arner, has strategically hired 160 people out of 190 city jobs (the most lucrative jobs in the city with the best benefits) who don’t live here, don’t pay taxes here, and have no long term interest in our community. They decide everything for us. The few jobs held by residents are with the Recreation Department which decides nothing of city policy.  Most importantly,  San Pablo people are of low income and  we can not defend ourselves given the high attorney and court fees.( It appears incomes have gone down to $20k/yr. See budget graph online by our Finance Director.)                                                                                                                        And it appears the city council and city employees intend to keep us that way.  Hundreds of units have been built with no stipulations for jobs for our people, though we have a high population of manual laborers and it is common practice  in other cities to stipulate jobs for residents in city contracts.  The result? Foreclosures are at an all time high and people cannot pay their house taxes, support our small businesses or finance their children for higher education. And this was approved by the city council, who have a fiduciary responsibility to the people,i.e. under the law they must act primarily for the benefit of the people.   What does the law say?

Code 33126: Employment of Personnel: (a) “….To the greatest extent feasible, the opportunities for training and
employment arising from a redevelopment project planning and execution SHALL be given to lower income residents
of the project area.” (The word “shall” in the law indicates it is mandated, i.e. it must be done.)

google: Realtytrac:Foreclosures, including preforeclosures, auctions, and bank owned and for sale properties total around 800.  That figure has remained constant for many months, but does not reflect the many properties that were bought by investors for cash (45% of sales).  Family owners have been pushed out from lack of jobs and investors have put in renters and Section 8 people for profit.
It’s not that the city council doesn’t know the law.  This writer went before the council months ago and read them chapter and verse on the law and even left them a copy for them to peruse at their leisure, yet tens of thousands of dollars of the people’s money have since been spent with only a limp-wristed outreach to East Palo Alto to hear what they’re doing. Why East Palo Alto? Because they have about the same size city, a high population of low income ethnic diversity, an RDA, and have had a ‘jobs program’ since 1971.  The result? Valuable city land acquired through eminent domain turned over for new stores,increased city debt for RDA bonds and an unemployment rate of 22%, about the same as ours.  Whatever they’re doing it’s not working for the people, given that unemployment rate.  This is a classic example of the Public Policy Institute’s findings.  RDA activity does not increase employment.  It increases debt.  Why did our city council look to a city with such a high unemployment rate?  Did they ask if taxes on residents went up after all the building?


Continued next time:  Eminent domain and the Abella complex: Who won, who lost?


4 Responses to “EMINENT DOMAIN”

  1. Jesus Gonzalez said

    Hello xaviervir,
    Nice post, I’m all for stopping eminent domain but i find your section on circle s to be a weak argument against eminent domain. there is no hard facts. You even state that you don;t know what happened to the residents. It actually comes off as offensive. As a 10 year resident of circle s i got to know know most of the good people there. I know that many people went on to make great investments. I for one bought my first house. Your post seems to imply that we were a burden to the city and that we aren’t too smart. Which is kind of ironic because that’s what the city thought of us as well.
    Other than that great post. Eminent domain is bad and tears people from homes. I may have gotten a new house but its still quite doesn’t feel like a home. That is a truly sad feeling no one should feel.

    • nubody1 said

      Jesus: I wrote the article. I first got interested in Circle S when a disabled RN wrote in the CCTimes pleading for help. Perhaps you know her? I looked up the law and passed on what information I could.
      What “hard facts” do you want to know? All I know is that the owner of that property got about $22M, the people got paid off and tossed out and everything was paid for by taxes and bond debt on the people of San Pablo. Millions was paid for the property and hundreds of thousands to buy out the residents. Couldn’t something have been done spendinf all that money to give them the option to move them (you) together to a section of the Abella property? And all decisions were made by people who don’t live here or pay taxes here and approved by the city council. My point was (my understanding from the RN) was that the people had a community there. If the city and the owner insisted on the land being sold, the people could have been transferred together over to an Abella compex so as to keep their community.
      Where did you get the idea I thought you or the Circle S people were a burden to
      the city? Or not too smart? Tell me the sentence or sentences. It needs to be corrected. No, I thought the people were likely low-income, as am I, and likely defenseless. And that they valued their community, as do I. And I was suggesting an alternative so this doesn’t happen again the way it did. There are other mobile parks in San Pablo. They may get targeted. Don’t be sad. Be angry. We’re all in this together. We’re here to help each other. Come to the meetings. You count. You’re important. Come fight with us. It’s fun. You’ll meet new people. And write more. We all need to hear from each other.

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